How to Manage Sibling Rivalry

Combine long summer days, rainy weather, more than one child, and a healthy dose of “unfairness” and it’s the perfect recipe for sibling rivalry. Whether it’s in the car or from the living room couch, every parent of siblings has heard the cry, “It’s not fair!” Disagreement between siblings is normal and often can be healthy when compromise is decided, but sometimes it’s too much and a parent can reach their breaking point. Understanding where the fighting is coming from is often a good first step in deciding how to deal with each child’s side of the argument.

  • Is the fight coming from personality differences? Sometimes siblings have personalities that get on each other’s nerves and it’s important to see how this affects the relationship.
  • Are the kids bored? Nothing like an intense sibling battle to make a boring summer day a little more interesting.
  • Are the kids stuck in a habit of yelling at each other? Sometimes it becomes a game of fun to see how to push a sibling’s buttons and get a reaction. On the other hand the children may not know other ways to negotiate conflict.
  • Does the parent accept the behavior? If a parent allows the constant fighting or is inconsistent with consequences, children may see this as encouragement.
  • Does one child resent another for status or how they are treated? Sharing attention, parents and personal belongings can lead to unhealthy competition.

Sometimes when looking at the motives for sibling rivalry the solution can be as easy as giving them an engaging activity to do or explaining why calling each other names is unacceptable. Other times it is necessary to do more to intervene and stop the battle cries before they begin. Here are some ideas to try to alleviate the fighting and establish peace among siblings:

  • Respect each child’s needs individually. Try to give things to each child that is tailored to their interests. For example instead of giving both children the exact same gift, try giving them something that is specifically something each child enjoys individually. Let each child have a voice in the decisions of what activities they join. Consider not signing them both up for the same music lessons or sports; let them decide separately.
  • Try not to compare one sibling to another. Although each child will have their differences, comparing them to each other only sets up a situation of competition and someone getting their feelings hurt.
  • Make sure to have consistent ground rules set for what is an acceptable and unacceptable way to treat a sibling. Have consequences understood before-hand and be sure to follow through on them if the behavior occurs.
  • Listen to the child when they say something is unfair and then ask them what they would do to change the situation. Sometimes having the child come up with their own solution to the problem can help them understand fairness and compromise.
  • Anticipate where the fighting usually happens and try to come up with a diversion tactic before it reaches the tipping point. If television or gaming time is an issue, create a schedule and write it out so they each can see it and know when it’s their turn.
  • Encouraging good behavior can go a long ways with siblings. Make sure that they know when they are doing something you appreciate. This can make a world of difference.

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    Remember that siblings may not be best friends until they are in high school or even out of the house, but hopefully these ideas can promote peace for the time being, lay the groundwork for developing interpersonal skills that can help them be successful in all relationships and help parents have less stress.

    Sources found at www.mayoclinic.org and www.today.com.

    Note: This information should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of a mental health condition. Call 612-871-1454 to learn more about Washburn Center’s mental health services for children.